The Ice Master by Jennifer Niven


  In addition, I want to thank the following close, personal friends of William McKinlay for their kindness—Magnus and Mamie Magnusson and Lord George Emslie.

  I am blessed with wonderful friends and family who have been nothing but supportive during this time in my life. My soul sister, Melissa McKay, deserves numerous mentions for her constant encouragement, laughter, joy, and commiseration. My oldest friend in the world, Joe Kraemer, deserves many thanks as well for knowing me backward and forward, and for keeping me eternally young. I also give thanks to my beloved grandmother Eleanor Niven and my remarkable aunts and uncles, Lynn Duval Clark, Phil Clark, Doris Knapp, Bill Niven, and Paula and Reid Sturdivant. My cousins have always been more like siblings to me, and they are Lisa Von Sprecken, Derek and Lisa Duval, Shannon Meade, Erik Sturdivant, Evan Sturdivant, and, my other “sister,” Ashley Hurley. Thanks to Patsy and Charles McGee, Frankie and Harry Gamble, and Jimmy and Polly McJunkin. Special thanks to Gayle Keller McJunkin and my little brother, John Keller. And, of course, to my loyal literary cats, Percy Shelley (who never left my side while I was writing) and George Gordon, Lord Byron (who provided much-needed comic relief).

  My west coast mother, Judy Kessler, and my dear friend and partner in crime, Angelo Sourmelis, have become my second family. Scott Berenzweig has kept me laughing and has always been there for me when I needed him. And thanks to the “Brother of my Soul” (who wishes to remain anonymous) for Lord Byron and literary discussions. There are friends too numerous to name, but I must mention David Solomon, George Liggins, Phil Fitzgerald, Annie Ward, Carol Edwards, Kyri Smith, Brian Loeser, Lisa Brucker, Bobbie Jo Dombey, Amy Bordy, Jill Lessard, Lori Watanabe, Robert Hamilton, Curtis Atkisson, III, Michael Hawes, Deak and Beth Reynolds, Mike and Melanie Kraemer, Jane and George Silver, Norman Corwin, Barbara Hogenson and Jeffrey Couchman, Loffie and Rob Tyson, Betsy Sulavik Gallagher, Michael Brunet, Mary Ellen Kay, Mike Bertram, and James Earl Jones.

  There are others who should be thanked. I benefited greatly from James Ronald Archer’s diligence and persistence. Dr. James Meade was my medical consultant on hypothermia, nephritis, and every other polar malady known to man. Craig R. Harvey, chief coroner of LA County, shared with me his professional opinion on the details of George Breddy’s death. Thanks to Dr. Roger K. Wilkinson for sharing his knowledge of Alister Forbes Mackay; to Adam Hyman and MPH Entertainment for offering their material; and to Richard Diubaldo, an expert on Vilhjalmur Stefansson and the Canadian Arctic. I am also grateful to my favorite photographer, Lisa Keating, and to Peter Martin, Harold A. Pretty, Greg Schenz, Bob Higashi, Brad Wagner, Sharon Obermann, Dan and Dorothea Petrie, the Renfrewshire Taxi Company in Scotland, the American Film Institute and Velva Jean, and Joe Kaiser, for teaching me “pure economy of words.”

  I also send special thanks to my high school guidance counselor who told me I should take secretarial classes, just in case my writing career didn’t work out—and who, in saying so, helped inspire me to make it happen.

  And on that note, to those who have inspired me—my mother, first of all, along with Anne Brontë, George Sand, and Jane Austen.

  Steve Goddard deserves a paragraph of his own for leading me to the remains of Sandy Anderson’s party. It was his fortuitous e-mail that alerted me to the auction on eBay. And thanks, too, to Jerry and Vangie Lee, for selling me the artifacts and for posting them on eBay in the first place.

  I want to pay tribute to McKinlay’s granddaughter, Tricia Scott, who is no longer here. And to the late Lucy Kroll, who believed in me years ago, before I was old enough to understand.

  Finally, there are several important people in my life whom I will always miss, and with whom I wish I could share this experience now: Jack and Cleo McJunkin, who made me feel like the center of their world; Olin Niven, for knowing instinctively when he was needed and for teaching me the true meaning of the word “gentleman”; and Dick Knapp, who should have lived to see this book, and many more.

  Captain Robert Bartlett, the ice master whose leadership and courage rallied the crew of the Karluk when disaster struck.

  The scientific staff of the Canadian Arctic Expedition of 1913, taken in Nome shortly before the Karluk sailed. Front row, left to right: Dr. Alister Forbes Mackay, Captain Robert Bartlett, Vilhjalmur Stefansson, Dr. Rudolph Martin Anderson, James Murray, Fritz Johansen. Back row, left to right: Bjarne Mamen, Burt McConnell, Kenneth Chipman, George Wilkins, George Malloch, Henri Beuchat, J.J. O’Neill, Diamond Jenness, John Raffles Cox, William McKinlay.

  HMCS Karluk in Victoria Harbour in June 1913. The ill-equipped, run-down ship attracted huge crowds to speed her departure.

  Diamond Jenness and William McKinlay aboard the Karluk in June 1913. Jenness, an anthropologist, and McKinlay, a magnetician, were known as the twins because of their short stature.

  George Malloch, geologist, on board the Karluk in June 1913. His comical, easy-going nature provided welcome comfort to his shipmates.

  Alexander “Sandy” Anderson, promoted to first mate when his predecessor was dismissed before the expedition set sail. His youth and relative inexperience were fully compensated for by his enthusiasm and dedication to duty.

  Bjarne Mamen, at twenty-two the youngest member of the scientific staff, begged to join the expedition and was accepted despite his lack of experience.

  William McKinlay relaxing on the deck of the Karluk. A Scottish schoolmaster, McKinlay had long dreamed of being an explorer but until now his only experience of the Arctic was from the books he had read.

  Kuraluk and Kiruk (who became known as “Auntie”) with their two children, Helen, then aged eight and Mugpi, aged three. They were hired to hunt and to sew winter clothes for the members of the expedition.

  Chief Engineer John Munro who, though lazy and ineffectual, was left in command on Wrangel Island by Captain Bartlett.

  George Breddy, the Karluk’s stoker, and one of the more volatile crew members. His instability and deviousness would lead to one of the most traumatic incidents of the entire expedition.

  The Karluk forcing a path through the ice pack in August 1913, as an early winter set in.

  With the Karluk trapped in the ice, the scientists and crew began to unload supplies onto the ice pack.

  Vilhjalmur Stefansson, a renowned explorer who believed that anyone could survive in the place he called the “friendly Arctic.”

  “Goodbye, Stefansson. We did not then know that those of us who were left on your luckless ship were not to see you again.” From the notes of Fred Maurer, September 1913.

  Bjarne Mamen in the regulation polar explorer’s kit. The clothes on board were thin hand-me-downs, purchased cheaply, and not issued to everyone.

  The last photograph of the Karluk before she went down. The ice blocks surrounding the hull were cut from the ice pack in an effort to insulate the ship from the bitter cold of the Arctic winter.

  Shipwreck Camp.

  “To look at the ice, one would think it impossible ever to get through it. In some parts there are ridges of 60 or 70 ft. in height, some even higher, with a sheer vertical face on one side as smooth as if they had been built by human hands. And we must get over & through & we must camp here until we have made that passable.” William McKinlay, March 1914.

  “Wrangel Island is eighty-five miles long, and varies from twenty-eight to thirty-five miles in width, and is practically all mountainous. It lies one hundred miles off the coast of Siberia and is the most desolate-looking place I have ever seen, or ever wish to see again.” Ernest Chafe, March 1914.

  Kataktovik on Wrangel Island shortly before he and Captain Bartlett set out on their extraordinary 700-mile journey across the ice to Siberia to get help. Apart from Helen and Mugpi, Kataktovik was, at nineteen, the youngest member of the expedition.

  Auntie with Helen and Mugpi on Wrangel Island, skinning a seal. The Eskimos were the hunters and were responsible for finding at least 80 percent of the game on the island.

  Nigeraurak, the ship’s cat and g
ood luck mascot. Little Mugpi used to tease the kitten and was rewarded with a deep scratch, which left a distinct scar.

  Mugpi, now four years old, with one of the ship’s dogs.

  From left to right, Ernest Chafe, John Hadley, Robert Williamson, Kuraluk, Mugpi, and Helen butchering a walrus. Chafe is holding the animal’s flippers.

  The meat rack. After butchering game, the meat would be left to dry in the sun to preserve it for winter supplies.

  John Hadley, a trapper who had joined the Karluk to escape his grief following the death of his Eskimo wife. He is shown here with his faithful dog, Molly.

  William McKinlay, Robert Williamson, George Breddy, Ernest Chafe, and “Clam” Williams. A rare photograph of scientists and crew together. The divisions between them, already noticeable onboard ship, became even more marked on the island. The camp would ultimately split in two, with McKinlay joining the Eskimos’ tent.

  William McKinlay, exhausted and suffering from snow blindness, lying outside his tent at Cape Waring.

  The camp at Cape Waring. The divisions in the camp are all too clearly visible, with the crewmen’s tent on the left and the Eskimos’ tent—shared with McKinlay and Hadley—on the right.

  “Clam” Williams with one of the ship’s dogs on Wrangel Island. The only member of the crew on the island to behave honorably.

  John Munro and Robert Templeman, the Karluk’s cook, at Rodger’s Harbour, 60 to 70 miles south east of Cape Waring. They had established a camp there to await the rescue ship for which the Karluk’s survivors were so desperately hoping.

  The Canadian flag flying at half mast over the grave of George Malloch and Bjarne Mamen at Rodger’s Harbour.

  The longed-for ship, the King and Winge, which forged through the ice to reach the survivors on Wrangel Island in September 1914.

  Mugpi, Helen, and Kuraluk on their way back to Alaska.

  The survivors of the Canadian Arctic Expedition, from left to right: John Munro (at the back), Robert Templeman, Robert Williamson, John Hadley, Captain Robert Bartlett, Auntie, Mugpi, Helen, William McKinlay, Kuraluk (seated in front), Ernest Chafe, “Clam” Williams, and Fred Maurer.

  The plaque commemorating those who died. In a curious twist of fate, this plaque is itself now missing, having been lost when the National Archives of Canada moved buildings in the 1960s.

  About the Author

  Jennifer Niven’s first book, The Ice Master, was named one of the Top Ten Nonfiction Books of the Year by Entertainment Weekly. A native of Los Angeles, she currently lives in Savannah.

  It was to be the greatest and most elaborate Arctic expedition in history, with the largest scientific staff ever taken on such a journey. It’s leader, Vilhjalmur Stefansson, was celebrated for his studies of Eskimo life and, with this mission, hoped to find evidence that proved his staunchly held belief that there was a last unexplored continent, hidden beneath the vast polar ice cap. In June 1913, the H.M.C.S. Karluk set sail from the Esquimalt Naval Yard in Victoria, British Columbia. Six weeks later, the arctic winter had begun, the ship was imprisoned in ice, and those on board had been abandoned by their leader.

  For five months, the Karluk remained frozen in a massive block of ice, drifting farther and farther off course. In January 1914, with a thunderous impact, the ice tore a hole in the vessel’s hull, and the redoubtable captain, Robert Bartlett, gave orders to abandon ship. With nothing but half the ship’s store of supplies and the polar ice beneath their feet, Captain Bartlett, twenty-one men, an Inuit woman and her two small daughters, twenty-nine dogs, and one pet cat were now hopelessly shipwrecked in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, hundreds of miles from land. These castaways had no choice but to try to find solid ground where they could wait while they struggled against starvation, snow blindness, a gruesome and mysterious disease, exposure to the brutal winter — and each other. Bartlett and one member of the party soon set across the ice to seek help. Nine months later, twelve survivors were rescued by a small whaling schooner and brought back to civilization.

  The Ice Master is an epic tale of true adventure that rivals the most dramatic fiction. Drawing on the diaries of those who were rescued and those who perished, and even an interview with one living survivor, Jennifer Niven re-creates with astonishing accuracy and immediacy the Karluk’s ill-fated journey and her crew’s desperate attempts to find a way home from the icy wastes of the Arctic.

  Reviews

  “Gripping . . . The Ice Master, both a celebration and a terrifying summation of the ferocity of nature, is a riveting read. But cozy up to this one with a quilt.”

  —Entertainment Weekly

  “Absorbing . . . Niven is meticulous in describing her characters’ personal traits. ” —Washington Post Book World

  “A riveting adventure. ” —Booklist

  Copyright

  Copyright © 2000 by Jennifer Niven

  All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of Hyperion e-books.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Niven, Jennifer.

  The ice master : the doomed 1913 voyage of the Karluk / Jennifer Niven.—1st ed.

  p. cm.

  ISBN: 0-7868-6529-6

  1. Karluk (Ship). 2. Canadian Artic Expedition (1913–1918). 3. Artic regions—Discovery and exploration. I. Title.

  G670 1913.K37N58 2000 00–061414

  919.804—dc21 CIP

  Paperback ISBN: 0-7868-8446-0

  EPub Edition © 2010 ISBN: 9780786870974

  First Paperback Edition

  1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2

 


 

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